Designing for a Pandemic

Towards Recovery and Resilience

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020 millions of people around the world had to quickly react to their changing circumstances. From rapidly adjusting work patterns by moving from a workplace to home, educational institutions moving online, supermarkets increasing their online booking and delivery schedules, to the rapid design of new healthcare systems to track and trace breakouts of the virus and development of vaccinations and the prototyping of government policy in real time. We saw design deployed by a wide range of individuals and organisations, both with and without design training.

Whilst COVID has had a profound impact upon the lives of millions of people around the world, we know that it won’t be the last pandemic we face. We also face global challenges such as climate change, huge health and economic inequalities and rising unrest, which can pose challenges when dealing with a pandemic at the same time. As a global community of designers and design researchers we understand these challenges and have the tools to assist in not only tackling them, but also in communicating and visualising alternative futures.

In early April we began logging examples of design in a database to capture how it was being used, who by and within which design disciplines. We continued tracking examples throughout 2020 and are still capturing them now, as we are still experiencing the profound effects of the pandemic around the world. As we tracked design examples we began splitting them into four stages: reaction, adaptation, recovery and resilience. We also split examples into different design disciplines (which isn’t exhaustive): product design, design and implementation of new technologies, data visualisation, graphic and information design, urban design, service design and healthcare design.

From analysing the hundreds of examples in the database we developed an initial set of design principles that we, as a design and design research community, can embrace and embed in our work as we hopefully begin to move out of the adaptation stage and into the recovery and resilience phases.

  • Effective, clear and consistent communication
  • Design of, with and for community
  • Equitable access to and ethical design of technologies
  • Designing collaboratively
  • Design agility and speed
  • Designing sustainably

Whilst we have yet to emerge from this pandemic, it is clear that there is a need for innovative, collaborative and cross-disciplinary approaches which will result in future resilience.

From our initial research we developed a collaborative paper which has just been published in the Strategic Design Research Journal Designing for a pandemic: towards recovery and resilience . You can also download a PDF version.

We will also be publishing an edited volume (eds. Louise Mullagh and Professor Rachel Cooper) Designing for COVID-19: Towards recovery and Resilience, which will be published by Bloomsbury Design in 2022. The book will bring together leading design researchers from around the world to explore in more depth how design has been deployed, both successfully and unsuccessfully across a range of disciplines. Based upon the database, which we hope to place online soon, the book will offer possible ways forward for the global design research community with reflections presented through case studies.

We will be updating on the project as it continues and as we are able to place the database online.